State Should Make McClellan a Priority

This story originally appeared in the Anniston Star. Click here for the original article.

Like a Major League Baseball team soaring in the first month of the season, McClellan is having itself a nice little spring. It could be better, however.

Late last month, the McClellan Development Authority approved a sewer-line project at the former U.S. Army post. At a projected cost of $390,000, the MDA and the Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board will join forces to upgrade some of the sewer lines on the property.

Don’t scoff. This is a big deal. Without this sort of infrastructure in place, the types of industries McClellan seeks will never give the place a second look.

“It makes us much more competitive now to bring jobs to this part of the state,” Phil Webb, chairman of the MDA board, told an Anniston Star reporter.

Also in April, the Legislature OK’d a tax credit for businesses with 50 or more employees that take up residence at McClellan (or another closed military post in Alabama).

“It’s just another tool in the tool bag,” Robin Scott, director of the MDA, told The Star.

“It’s another incentive to sway them our way,” Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said last month. “It’s not huge, but if you’ve got a big enough workforce, it’s a number and it adds up.”

Like we said, not bad for the last couple of months. To go back to our baseball reference at the start, McClellan is hitting singles and doubles this spring.

This good news is a reminder of how much more could be done to promote and rebuild this 10,000-acre property, to turn it into a first-rate site for research and, most importantly, jobs. Make that, jobs, jobs, jobs.

In 2013, The Star produced a series of articles on a former Army fort in Massachusetts — Fort Devens. It and Fort McClellan opened around the same time — early in the 20th century — and were closed by the Pentagon at around the same time — the 1990s.

There are differences, though. More than 3,500 people work for companies located at the grounds of Devens. The average annual salary is $69,210, well above the state average in Massachusetts. An economic analysis found that Devens contributes $1.4 billion dollars annually to the Bay State’s economy.

McClellan isn’t without success stories. Its tenants and their employees, its residents and its recreational facilities are testament to the progress made since the U.S. Army moved out in 1999. However, more work remains.

Devens has advantages McClellan does not. The economy of Massachusetts dwarves the one in Alabama. Devens is an hour’s drive from Boston and its various research universities. The Army left less of a mess in Devens than it did at McClellan, where $200 million was required to clean the property of unexploded ordnance and various contaminants.

To me, though, the big difference came at the state level. As Fort Devens was preparing to close its doors, the state of Massachusetts set up a public-private partnership to oversee the re-use of the post. To turn desires into reality, the state Legislature appropriated $200 million to Devens’ rebirth.

That’s not the case in Alabama when it comes to the development of McClellan. Here, McClellan — with the potential to become an economic engine for the region and even the entire state — is left to redevelop itself on its own, with no dedicated revenue stream from the state. It makes money by selling off its one big asset — property that needs time and TLC to be made more valuable.

The 2016 session of the Alabama Legislature just ended. Lawmakers should put injecting revenue into McClellan’s redevelopment on the 2017 to-do list.